Dementia is the loss of cognitive abilities (thinking, reasoning etc.) over time.
Hearing loss is considered to be one of the main contributing causes to dementia.
Hearing loss over time can cause:
Auditory deprivation, which prevents the brain from receiving regular auditory stimulation,
Increased cognitive load,
Cross-modal plasticity, which occurs when an undamaged sensory modality
replaces a deprived sensory modality.
Regular hearing evaluation, use hearing aids as per your audiologist's recommendation and the use of proper communication techniques when having a conversation are some of the preventive measures that one can take to reduce the risk of dementia.
Have you ever stored something so securely only to entirely forget where you placed it when you were looking for it? Or have you ever met someone you've met before and tried your hardest to remember their names, who they are, or where you first met them, but no matter how hard you tried, YOU JUST COULD'NT REMEMBER!!!
Well, Dementia is something like that only ten times harder. A person suffering from dementia forgets not just where they have kept things, names of things, and relationships with other people, but also where they were five minutes ago and ultimately who they are. To be more precise, dementia is the loss of cognitive abilities including thinking, remembering, and reasoning. As a result, a person's personality changes and their ability to control their emotions is compromised over time.
A Research by Prince et al. estimates that over 50 million people globally suffer from dementia, making it a significant health concern. This figure is anticipated to increase to 152 million by 2050.
Although dementia is a neuro-de generational condition by nature, there is no obvious cause for this. However, research over the years have shown several causes to dementia such as hypertension, diabetes, traumatic brain injury among which hearing loss is seen to be one of the major prevalent factors (Livingston et.al; 2020).
HOW CAN HEARING LOSS CAUSE DEMENTIA AND WHAT CAN HEARING AIDS DO ABOUT IT?
The brain has a distinct cognitive reserve where information about daily activities, habits, and events is continuously fed. However, when there occurs a period where a person has hearing loss it gradually leads to auditory deprivation which is nothing but the lack of adequate auditory stimulation to the brain. Over time if this hearing loss is left untreated the auditory deprivation resulting from the same can lead to the degeneration of this cognitive reserve causing a severe cognitive decline.
The proper use of hearing aids, however, may decrease this type of auditory deprivation and the severity of cognitive impairment it causes (Jiang et al., 2023).
INCREASED COGNITIVE LOAD:
When one suffers hearing loss, listening becomes a laborious effort in and of itself. This occurs because each acoustic stimulus must be carefully listened to in order to process every bit of auditory data. This deliberate listening requires a greater allocation of cognitive resources, raising the mental workload.
Hearing aid use can lessen this cognitive burden on the brain, which will allow the brain to return to the original set of cognitive tasks (Maharani et al., 2018; Jiang et al., 2023).
We engage in conversation on a daily basis. We all need to engage in some sort of interaction with those around us, starting at home and continuing at work. Due to the effort required to listen to a discussion, people who have even mild hearing loss eventually dislike having a normal conversation. Particularly older folks eventually begin to avoid social situations and eventually even everyday talks. According to various researchers, this is one of the main causes of cognitive decline.
By lowering the effort necessary to listen, hearing aids can help people overcome this isolation and ultimately give them the confidence they need to go about their daily lives.
CROSS MODAL PLASTICITY:
Have you ever wondered why people who have trouble hearing, need some sort of visual information during a discussion, particularly any kind of lip reading? A phenomenon known as Cross – Modal plasticity is responsible for this. Cross-modal plasticity is the process that occurs when one sensory modality—in this case, hearing— is deprived, causing another intact sensory modality—sight—to be recruited. This kind of cross-modality can eventually cause cognitive deterioration.
Researchers propose that prompt and swift intervention with hearing aids can reduce the likelihood of subsequent cognitive deterioration by reducing cross-modality from occurring. (Glick and Sharma, 2017)
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?
Regular Hearing Check-Up:
As crucial as taking a blood test on a regular basis is visiting an audiologist for a checkup on your hearing. Don't ignore it and avoid getting a frequent evaluation, especially if you're an older adult. Keep in mind that IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS!!
“A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES ALWAYS BEGIN WITH A SINGLE STEP!”
- Lao Tzu
A study done by Talajard et.al, 2016 puts individuals without hearing aids at 42% risk of dementia compared to individuals who are hearing aid users.
Encourage your loved ones to get hearing aids as soon as possible in order to preserve social interactions, remember how our favorite person's voice used to sound, and to preserve natural sounds (such as bird chirps, the rustling of leaves, the flow of water, etc.).
Each person communicates in their own unique way. If you have trouble hearing, find practical and effective solutions to make conversation simpler and ask for assistance when necessary. If you have a friend or relative who struggles with their hearing, support them by speaking to them clearly, paying attention to how they communicate, and assisting them when necessary.
“A GOOD CONVERSATION MIGHT BE THE BEST ANTIDOTE A PERSON NEEDS!”
Social gatherings can be challenging for people with hearing impairment. In order to help people step outside of their comfort zone, give them confidence. They might find the courage to take on their obstacles in life with just such a tiny act of compassion.
Dementia and hearing loss are two challenging conditions that are more closely related than we may have realized. Recognizing this connection and taking proactive steps to alleviate hearing loss may help reduce the risk of dementia in people and hence help them have a higher quality of life.
Jiang, F., Mishra, S. R., Shrestha, N., Ozaki, A., Virani, S. S., Bright, T., Kuper, H., Zhou, C., & Zhu, D. (2023). Association between hearing aid use and all-cause and cause-specific dementia: an analysis of the UK Biobank cohort. The Lancet Public Health, 8(5), e329–e338. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2468-2667(23)00048-8.
Livingston, G., & Costafreda, S. G. (2023). Preventing dementia through correcting hearing: huge progress but more to do. The Lancet. Public Health, 8(5), e319–e320. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2468-2667(23)00058-0.
Livingston, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S., Brayne, C., Burns, A., Cohen‐Mansfield, J., Cooper, C., Costafreda, S. G., Dias, A., Fox, N. C., Gitlin, L. N., Howard, R., Kales, H. C., Kivimäki, M., Larson, E. B., Ogunniyi, A., . . . Mukadam, N. (2020). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 396(10248), 413–446. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30367-6.
Loughrey, D. G., Kelly, M. E., Kelley, G. A., Brennan, S., & Lawlor, B. A. (2018). Association of Age-Related hearing loss with cognitive function, cognitive impairment, and dementia. JAMA Otolaryngology-- Head & Neck Surgery, 144(2), 115. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaoto.2017.2513.
Prince M, Wimo A, Guerchet M, Ali G, Wu Y, Prina M. The global impact of dementia: an analysis of prevalence, incidence, cost and trends. World Alzheimer Report 2015 2015; https:// www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2015.pdf Accessed August 27, 2016.
Maharani A, Dawes P, Nazroo J, Tampubolon G, Pendleton N. Longitudinal relationship between hearing aid use and cognitive function in older Americans. Journal of American Geriatrc Socitey 2018; 66: 1130–36.
Glick H, Sharma A. Cross-modal plasticity in developmental and age-related hearing loss: Clinical implications. Hear Res. 2017 Jan;343:191-201. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2016.08.012. Epub 2016 Sep 6. PMID: 27613397; PMCID: PMC6590524.